Sarah Neill

About Me

Ever since I can remember I always wanted to be a professional marine biologist. The sea has always intrigued and fascinated me with all its amazing inhabitants and mechanisms. I devoured all the information I could find regarding the subject - myths, legends, stories, facts. I became even more enchanted by life under the waves.  Becoming a marine biologist was a dream that really ignited and motivated me throughout my early life. I worked significantly hard to gain top qualifications in my GCSEs and A-levels, securing a place at my first choice university to study Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology and turn my dream into a reality. My degree course provided me with an excellent foundation in a range of topics including marine vertebrates, population dynamics, evolution and ecology, behavioural ecology, microbiology, genetics, aquatic biology, physical and chemical processes of the ocean, biology of marine organisms, speciation and diversity and marine conservation. I undertook fieldwork in France and South Africa gaining valuable experience in scientific research skills.

Following on from my degree I spent 10 years working all over the UK in the zoo and aquarium industry. Here my roles  encompassed everything from aquarist, to sea lion trainer to primate keeper and everything in between!  I was passionate about the health and welfare of the animals under my care, always striving to improve husbandry techniques and devising all kinds of imaginative enrichment and training programmes. It was also very important to me that visitors left with a strong conservation message.

My love for the ocean, animals and conservation saw me dedicate all my free time to a host of voluntary work, which you can learn more about in the "voluntary work" section on this page. I travelled all over the world to volunteer my skills and see real life conservation, from efforts to conserve the Chinese white dolphin in Hong Kong to marine conservation in the Seychelles. 

I completed my scuba diving certifications to immerse myself underwater to explore and experience  a realm whose wonders are unfortunately missed by so many people. 

This new found wealth of knowledge and experience led to me securing my current job as a Lecturer at Kendal College. This role combines my love of education, conservation and caring for animals. Not only do I get to teach the next generation of animal carers the highest standards of welfare, and enthuse the next generation of conservationists to restore and protect the natural world, but we are also unique in being the first college in the country to run a genuine wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre on site which is so incredibly fulfilling in itself. 

In summary, I have dedicated my life and career to the preservation of the ocean, for to quote Dr. Sylvia Earle "No water, no life. No blue, no green".  I have been devoted to the protection of all living creatures, not only in terms of habitat restoration and rehabilitation, but also in striving to educate others in the need to make positive changes for the benefit of our environment and the possible consequences for our ecosystems if we don't. I endeavour to inspire others to care about our seas, for as Jacques Cousteau famously said "The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever". 

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Early Work History

Upon completing my BSc. (Hons) in Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology I volunteered at my local Sea Life Centre and was soon offered my first paid aquarist position. As an aquarist I undertook all aspects of animal husbandry and training, preparing diets, developing enrichment provision, monitoring water quality and maintaining life support systems. This led to a long and varied career working within the aquarium and zoo industry. I worked all over the UK in roles ranging from aquarist to sea lion trainer to primate keeper! My main focus when working in the zoo and aquarium industry was to provide the animals with the best life they could possibly have in captivity. I developed many enrichment and training programmes not only to help eradicate abnormal stereotypical behaviours, but to enable food to be shared equally, to give them more freedom to exhibit natural behaviours, to encourage them to fully use all enclosure space and to make each and every day overall more exciting. I devised training methods to remove the stress to animals when carrying out treatments and health checks. This included everything from name training crocodiles, clicker training green sea turtles, to station training otters.
I am incredibly passionate about conservation and education and ensured that visitors left having learned more about the amazing animals under my care, the threats they face and most importantly what positive changes they can make as individuals to help the environment.

 

Voluntary Work

I also dedicated my free time to volunteering for a variety of charities and organisations. Learn more about my ongoing voluntary work below...

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Living Seas North West

I volunteered on many Living Seas North West projects. I trained to become a Shoresearch Leader and led regular citizen science surveys of the intertidal shore around the Cumbrian and Lancashire coastline. The data collected by this project helps experts to monitor our fragile sea life and better understand the effects of pollution, climate change and invasive alien species. Shoresearch data has been key to designating many of our Marine Conservation Zones. I was a Wild Oceans volunteer helping to encourage people to buy and eat seafood that is not endangered and has been caught using sustainable methods. I also carried out population counts and behaviour surveys on the local seal population at South Walney Nature Reserve.

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British Divers Marine Life Rescue

In 2010 I trained as a marine mammal medic with the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) and learned all about the rescue and rehabilitation of marine mammals. I attended every call out I got and became the Regional Co-ordinator for Cumbria in 2014. Within this role I have worked with the BDMLR team to rescue and refloat cetaceans deemed healthy by a vet, to rescue and arrange the rehabilitation of ill or injured grey and common seals and a more rare case included the rescue of a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. In 2019 I travelled to Gibraltar on behalf of BDMLR to train environmental protection officers in marine mammal rescue for the HM Government of Gibraltar’s Department of Environment, Heritage and Climate Change.

 

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Otter Rehabilitation and Board Member of International Otter Survival Fund

I am also experienced in the rescue and rehabilitation of orphaned otter cubs working closely with the International Otter Survival Fund (IOSF). I provide initial care to orphaned otters before transporting them to the IOSF sanctuary based on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Initial care often involves feeding cubs every 2 to 4 hours throughout the day and night, getting them weaned on to solid food and strong enough for the long journey to the specialist sanctuary where they are often partnered with another orphaned cub to undergo long term rehabilitation until they are fit for release back into the wild when they are around 13 months old. Additionally I take part in fundraising events and raising awareness of the threats to otters and their ecosystems in talks and lectures.
I was delighted to accept the invitation to become an IOSF board member in April 2020.

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Bat Rehabiliation

I have always found wildlife rescue and rehabilitation immensely fulfilling, especially the release part, so I jumped at the chance to become a bat carer for my local bat group and learn all about bat ecology, identification, behaviours, care and conservation. Since becoming a registered bat carer for the Bat Conservation Trust and my local bat group I have cared for injured bats and orphaned bat pups including common pipistrelles, soprano pipistrelles, brown long eared bats, whiskered bats and Brandt's bats. I also perform DNA swabs from the wings of any casualties and record wing tears. This information is sent to Manchester Metropolitan University for analysis and investigation into domestic cat predation on British bats through the use of molecular techniques.

 

Project Wild Gambia

Co-ordinating Marine Field Research Trips 

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Project Wild Gambia are a carbon-neutral organisation that has been conducting ground-breaking conservation work to help increase our understanding of many endangered species and provide solutions to increase their populations. It  aims to protect wildlife in a way that financially supports the local people while removing any negative global impact. 

Our guests and staff make major contributions to the conservation of Gambian wildlife, but we must also be aware of the global implications of our activities. For that reason, from 2021, we will make all of our trips carbon-neutral by planting trees that will capture the equivalent mass of carbon generated by every flight – guests and staff alike. For other visitors to The Gambia, we would like to offer them the chance to offset their carbon footprint by joining our scheme. Over the next 10 years, we aim to plant 10,000 trees in The Gambia. This will include trees in existing forests to increase their value and stability as well as new areas where we will kick start new forest areas throughout the country.

I was excited to be invited to contribute to pioneering marine research and conservation by Dr Roy Armstrong and his team and to help coordinate marine research field trips to The Gambia with Project Wild Gambia. These trips focus on researching the Atlantic humpback dolphin, elasmobranchs and turtles, but with opportunities to see and participate in the research of many other species including West African manatee, Mediterranean monk seal, primates, reptiles, amphibians, birds and more. Most recently PWG have teamed up with the two turtle groups in The Gambia to join the biggest conservation initiative to help turtles in The Gambia - ever!  If you are interested in participating please join our group "Marine Conservation in The Gambia" 

 

The ESG Foundation

Founded in 2020 the ESG Foundation exists to focus the attention of all organisations that positive Environmental, Social impact and corporate Governance behaviours are vital to the wellbeing of the stakeholders they serve. 
Environmental, Social and Governance reporting is still little understood by commercial and not for profit organisations.
However the benefit of focusing senior leadership teams’ attention on best ESG practice will immeasurably benefit the impact their organisations make to reducing carbon emissions; addressing issues of social inequality and running their organisations efficiently and transparently. The ESG Foundation will alert journalists to organisations' preparedness to report their ESG activities along UN based best practice guidelines. (Starting with the FTSE 250).
I am appointed to the board of Special Advisors at the ESG Foundation and was invited to be part of their pod cast series to discuss my expedition to the high Arctic, otters, recycling, women in science and gender parity in the boardroom.

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The Sea Watch Foundation

In January 2021 I was delighted to be offered the role of Regional Coordinator for the Sea Watch Foundation. The Sea Watch Foundation is a national marine environmental charity working to improve the conservation of whales, dolphins and porpoises in the seas around Britain and Ireland. Through its continuous programme of research and monitoring, the foundation provides invaluable information on changes to the status and distribution of cetacean populations and the condition of their habitats. This is used to raise awareness of any issues and prompt environmental change to help conserve and protect these animals. My role focuses on collecting sightings data and coordinating research and monitoring in Cumbria, as well as running the annual National Whale and Dolphin Watch in my region.

 

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Cetacean and Sea Bird Surveys

I have completed marine mammal surveyor training with two separate organisations. I learned the techniques used by ORCA to record cetaceans at sea and also the methods used by MARINElife to record cetaceans and sea birds. I have completed many surveys for both organisations. After each survey we submit our data and write a survey report. I also volunteered to become a Route Coordinator for MARINElife. This involved organising survey dates with ferry companies, selecting survey teams based on their availability and skill sets and ensuring both the ferry company and the surveyors received all contact details, ferry tickets and survey information packs.

ORCA believes that the only way to protect our whales and dolphins is to identify areas where they’re vulnerable and study their habitats. That way, we can protect these places by changing the way we use them. That includes shipping, fishing, noise pollution, marine litter and more. The UK government relies on ORCA’s crucial work to help it meet its obligations under the EU Habitats Directive (1992). MARINElife also believes the key to safeguarding our marine wildlife is in evidence-based research which is the recognised foundation for conservation measures by policy makers. We have collected a huge dataset of cetacean and seabird population data which continues to be used to determine seasonal, annual and long-term population trends for individual species. This baseline data on the marine ecosystem is necessary in order to be able to detect changes in species' numbers and inform marine resource policy managers such that the most appropriate conservation action can be taken. 

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Animals Asia

In December 2019 I became a regional coordinator for Animals Asia. Animals Asia is devoted to ending bear bile farming and improving the welfare of animals across Asia, including the welfare of cats, dogs and captive wild animals.  Obviously I have a strong interest in the welfare of captive cetaceans across Asia.
Our South Lakes Support Group organises, hosts and attends a range of events and activities for the purpose of fundraising, education and raising awareness about the charity's 3 major programmes.

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Surfers Against Sewage

I signed up to be a Community Leader for Surfers Against Sewage in order to run a "Make Kendal Plastic Free" campaign with my students. Here we are encouraging the community to move away from using single-use plastics. This involves taking action as individuals, engaging local governance and businesses, recruiting plastic free allies and holding plastic free rallies. As a result Kendal College Cafe removed all single use plastics, as did a number of businesses. We are slowly achieving our objectives and moving towards Kendal being declared a plastic free community. See "Kendal Talks" video below.

 
 

Kendal College

Kendal College is home to the UK’s first Animal Rescue & Rehabilitation Centre alongside its teaching department. Facilities include an intensive care and treatment room with industry standard surgical equipment and digital x-ray facilities to provide the highest level of care for animals and the best possible practical learning environment for students. We accept wildlife casualties from the RSCPA, local veterinary surgeries and the public. Our admissions have included otters, seals, foxes, badgers, deer, sea birds, birds of prey, hedgehogs and many more!
I am entering my 8th year of teaching here and have taught on BTEC Level 2 Animal Care, BTEC Level 3 Animal Management and the Level 2 Diploma in Work-based Animal Care. Units I teach include the Principles of Wildlife Management, Ecology and Conservation, Animal Behaviour and Communication, Aquatics Husbandry and Management, Animal Feeding, Animal Accommodation, Animal Welfare and Breed Development,  Exotic Animal Health and Husbandry, Wildlife Management and Rehabilitation, Principles of Animal Breeding and Genetics and Animal Biology. Here we get to inspire the next generation of care givers and conservationists. We teach students the highest standards of animal care and welfare, educate them in current conservation issues and inspire and encourage them to get involved in all kinds of activities and campaigns, including the "Make Kendal Plastic Free" campaign with Surfers Against Sewage.
In 2017 I helped design and develop our Foundation Degree in British Animal Management and Wildlife Rehabilitation. This is a bespoke course which has been written from scratch by myself and a colleague who is a veterinarian. Our modules cover everything from the ethics of wildlife rehabilitation to marine ecology. We underwent a full validation process winning approval from the University of Cumbria in July 2017 and began teaching the course in September 2017. Our students have the option to top up to a full BSc. degree in Animal Conservation Science by completing a third year at the University of Cumbria. We proudly saw our first students graduate with their Bachelor's in the summer of 2019.

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Kendal College Animal Care Department

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Kendal College Animal Care Department

 
 

A Sedna Sea Woman

In summer 2019 I was recovering from meningitis when I saw a post on social media which read "WOMEN WANTED FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY, SMALL WAGES, BITTER COLD, LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE SUNLIGHT, CONSTANT DANGER, SAFE RETURN HOPEFUL, HONOUR AND RECOGNITION IN CASE OF SUCCESS." I decided to apply and never dreamt in a million years that I would be selected for the expedition team. I was over the moon to receive an email from Susan R. Eaton, a renowned geoscientist, journalist and polar explorer named in the Women Divers Hall of Fame, inviting me to a video call and interview. At the end of that video call I was offered the opportunity to become a Sedna Sea Woman and join an exciting expedition to the High Arctic with Sedna Epic.  

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Sedna Epic Expedition

The Sedna Epic Expedition was founded by Susan R. Eaton and is comprised of an incredibly talented and passionate team of women ocean scientists, marine biologists, explorers, movie-makers, photographers, artists, educators, Inuit advisors, polar divers and snorkelers who hail from all over the world.

The first stage of our expedition involves running a women’s leadership program in Tromsø to discuss women’s growing representation in policy, exploration and STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Medicine) careers. During this program the Sedna team intend to connect with Sami women and indigenous communities to explore scientific, environmental, societal and policy issues. There is a strong emphasis to learn from these indigenous communities as much as it is aiming to contribute to increase their scientific knowledge of their environment. By engaging with the local women in this manner it is hoped that they will be encouraged to take leading roles within their communities to tackle climate change. I have joined Sedna' Leadership Team to help shape this program.

Following the women's leadership program, Team Sedna will spend time at sea aboard a research vessel 350km above the Arctic Circle to undertake cutting edge scientific research. As part of the science team my main focus will on be the orca health index which involves assessing orca health above and below the surface. I will be assisting in the extraction of eDNA from water samples for analysis to reveal information on the presence of certain species, tracking whales (orcas and humpbacks) using photo ID and recording whale bioacoustics using the HVAL (Hydro Video Acoustic Logger that records toothed whale echolocation signals).

I have also joined the Sedna Arts Team and we are aiming to combine art and science in a multitude of ways since science and art can be extremely effective when working in synergy.

The data and media collected will be used in film, media, written works, educational opportunities and workshops worldwide!

 

Sedna Epic

Where no man has gone before, into the snorkel zone studying disappearing sea ice in the Arctic, bringing the ocean to eye level using remotely operated vehicles and mobile aquariums, combining aboriginal and scientific knowledge to mitigate global warming, empowering women and girls, developing Inuit leaders to tackle societal and climate change, creating female role models and a space for girls to excel in science, the arts and exploration!

 

Sarah Neill

Thanks for your interest. Please get in touch with any questions or comments regarding my work and Sedna Epic fundraising campaign, or to book me for any talks and lectures. I’d love to hear from you.

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